Interaction with Hauerwas: Initial hypothesis and issues related to Christian pacifism

I have begun to read War and the American Difference by Stanley Hauerwaus (PhD, Yale University) who is currently serving as the Gilbet T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University. I picked this book because my mom gave it to me for Christmas (thanks mom).  I have other books on this subject, but they are by more recognizable pacifists.  They were avoided because i am reading this while in uniform at an army base while doing things like this:


In my role as a chaplain candidate.  Dr. Hauerwaus was kind enough to put dog tags on the cover of his book, so i blend right in!

Dr Hausewaus (or “Stan” as i will be referring to him for the remainder of this post) contends that War is an essential element of the American ethos and a major component of our national identity.  He also will be arguing that the Christian faith demands an approach of pacifism which (i am assuming at this point in my reading) means that Christians must abstain from the professional and societal support of the American military.

I do not (at least not yet) agree with Stan

My initial hypothesis on this subject is as follows:

The moral accountability concerning military engagement by a state belongs to all of the state’s citizens, not exclusively to its warrior class.  Furthermore, i contend that the profession of arms is a legal profession with at least as much biblical validation as a number of various secular professions which the Church (rightly, I believe) encourages its members to participate in for the construction/maintenance of society.  As such a profession,  the profession of arms must be subject to the greater narrative of Christ, the Christian Faith, and the Church for each military participant belonging to the Church.

there are many places to go from here, i will test a few of them but i must warn that the order of topics will be in no way systematic.

Edit: there are many topics that i would like to address concerning Christian pacifism vs. military participation and i understand that my hypothesis requires much more explanation.  tonight i will limit myself to one explanation and one interaction with Stan

What on earth do i mean my “biblical validation” ?

answer: not much here.  only that i find no major critique of the profession of arms in scripture.  The ancient world and the world of the New Testament was one where a warrior class existed and was present nearly everywhere.  Instead of a condemnation of this class, it is the profession from which the first gentile convert comes.   I think that the book of Daniel provides us with few archetypal examples of God’s people involvement in the state-established profession of arms and conveniently avoids the “theocracy” objection raised so often when discussing the Old Testament.

Please notice that i have not and will not attempt a biblical validation based on the uniqueness of the American experiment or the special election of the United States by God to execute His will  on earth through might. I am willing to hear an argument for the existence of such a rationale, but can not, in my present state, begin to think of how it could possibly be constructed.  I believe that my contention is both easier to defend, and deals a heavier blow to pacifism by validating the profession of arms in the same manner that other professions which contribute to the construction/maintenance of society are validated.

Semantics don’t settle an argument, they define it.

Stan writes this on page 26 “it is by no means clear that you can fight a just war against terrorism.  If one of the crucial conditions of a just war is for the war to have an end, then the war against terrorism clearly cannot be just because it is a war without end.

Here he attempts to demonstrate that the war on terror is unjust in one sentence by defining someone else’s term for him.  I have heard similar argument from amateur-level and professional  reformed theologians who believe that they have defeated someone’s  ‘heretical’ Arminianism  by procuring their assent to the fact that God is sovereign.  Such an argument has won nothing and amounts to nothing more than a sophomoric, semantic trick useful only on youth-group kids.

Stan equates “end” with a cessation of hostilities where the just-war theorist who proposes this condition meant (or at least should have meant) “end” as synonymous with goal or the Greek word telos.   a possible telos to the war on terror would be the defense of non-combatants (to include military personnel not engaged in official or de facto combative operations i.e. ‘war.’)  so long as terrorist operations remain on the offensive (i am not saying that they are, only that such a action would meet just-war criteria)  then a cessation is not necessary to meet this condition of just-war, only a fulfillment of the telos – the defense of non-combatants.

please tell me what you think–


3 comments on “Interaction with Hauerwas: Initial hypothesis and issues related to Christian pacifism

  1. Great post

    I’m very curious about the statement, “The moral accountability concerning military engagement by a state belongs to all of the state’s citizens, not exclusively to its warrior class.” What is my moral accountability for wars that my country may wage, justly or unjustly? At what point, if any, does a Christian soldier become morally accountable for participating in unjust and immoral actions that he/she may be commanded to do?
    I find that there is often little reflection given by Christians on this topic and we tend to either go with a rigid pacifism or a position that gives no thought to the morality and justness of any military actions by our country that one may be required to participate in.

    To your other point about the criteria for just for of a war having an end or a telos or a goal; shouldn’t a goal by necessity be measurable, because saying that the goal is the protection of non-combatants is not very measurable. The other thing is that by having ill-defined or undefined goals such as fighting “terror”, we are opened greatly to our own capacity for self-deception, where actions that are far from self-defense become viewed as such (i.e. the Iraq war). I am curious about your thoughts on the role of self-deception and the self-delusion of benevolence in our wars when it comes to evaluating for the criteria for just war.

    • by including “The moral accountability concerning military engagement by a state belongs to all of the state’s citizens, not exclusively to its warrior class.” in my hypothesis, i am exploring the question of where the accountability ends for a nation’s violent acts (especially in a modern, democratic republic). The question that you ask at the end of the paragraph is where the discussion can begin. The American soldier that lawfully kills an opposing combatant has been ordered to do so by a chain of command that ends with the democratically elected leaders of the United States. The US is specially constituted (in a document ratified by its citizenry) for and has frequently executed violent military engagement. A citizen’s participation in this body is not limited to a vote, but includes a participation in funding this state (government/military) through participation in its economy as well as a sworn allegiance, directly for first-generation immigrants, and indirectly for decedents of immigrants who swore such an allegiance long ago (for whom such an oath is assumed until renounced). Furthermore this participation and allegiance is voluntary and modern globalization has made it practically possible to abandon this economy and swear allegiance to another state which is constituted differently. Thus there is no waiver available nor the citizen, conscientious objector who ratifies their violent state with their money and their sworn allegiance

      This is something that i have never thought incredibly deeply about untill now when Haurwaus’s book led me to investigate the question (one he does not ask or answer directly) I realize that this has far reaching consequences beyond accountability for violence including accountability for other state postures and/or actions. For instance, a small number of abortions are performed by a direct agent of the state (unlike military action) the posture of the state which i participate in allows this practice to occur.

      a second-order, personal realization (please don’t take this as an endorsement) in this process is a more nuanced stance towards the “culture war” enthusiasts who desire to participate in a nation which does not violate their conscience.

      such a reality (if it is accepted) combined with the fear that a state which completely aligns with the Christian Faith will never exist. causes me to search for a permissible and necessary bifurcation within post-eden, post-easter, and pre-realized kingdom human life which allows for participation in the construction/maintenance of orderly society. Especially one which employs force to maintain such order.(ala Romans 13:4)


  2. i think that a goal should be measurable -yes. but measurable does not mean cessation.

    I am not so concerned with what something is called unless the intention of said name/title is intended for deception. It may be the case that the ‘war’ on terror was given its title for this purpose or it may be that the word “war” may be fairly defined in such a broad scope to describe both Napoleon’s campaigns and the actions of America post 9/11. I see the ‘war’ on terror as a police action on an international scale. it is hard to imagine that some sort of punitive action was warranted against those directly involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center, flight 93, and the Pentagon (which is a group probably not limited to the pilots/combatants themselves) just like conspiracy to commit murder is a crime and the hiring of a hit man is a crime both of which should and do result in punitive justice. as a police action a response seems (tell me if you disagree) clearly warranted, but the extent to and means by which it was and is still being pursued may be in error. maybe we have met the criteria for jus ad bellum but have transgressed a principle of ‘measured response’ necessary to have jus in bello.

    the Irag war is hard, i don’t think I’m ready to offer a response yet, but I do anticipate arguing that war as international police-action is a legal and appropriate role of the nation-state and as such its warrior class should practice munificent obedience to its commanders in the lawful profession of war, especially when considering jus ad bellum

    p.s. this is all new territory for me – the first time i have thought about these things on this level, do not mistake my desire for persuasive and clear communication for confidence in my position

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